Paris, March 5 : To contain the spread of new coronavirus variants in France, Prime Minister Jean Castex has announced a weekend lockdown in additional areas, tougher rules against social mixing in high-risk regions and faster vaccination rollout.

The northern department of Pas-de-Calais will move into lockdown starting this weekend, Xinhua news agency quoted Castex as saying in his announcement on Thursday.

The incidence rate there hit 400 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, double the national average. The number of new infections surged by 23 percent in the last five days.

As in Alpes-Maritimes and Dunkirk, people in Pas-de-Calais have to stay at home from 6 a.m. Saturday to 6 p.m. Sunday, announced Castex at the weekly press conference on the sanitary situation.

He said that three departments, Hautes-Alpes, Aisne and Aube, are added to the list of high-alert zones, where large malls will close and mask-wearing will be reinforced in all urban areas starting from Friday midnight.

Local authorities will have the power to impose a ban on public gatherings on weekends in most crowded areas in these departments "under reinforced surveillance," Castex said, calling on inhabitants to limit their travel as much as possible.

"Next weekends, even if you don't have to stay at home, limit your social interaction. We have to hold on together.

"In one year, a lot has changed. We learned about the impact of lockdown, its social, economic, and human impact," he said, adding that another lockdown is "not impossible but it is not inevitable".

Viral circulation in France increased over a couple of weeks mainly due to the virus variant first detected in Britain, which "now represents over 60 per cent of infections", said Castex.

On Thursday, another 25,279 people tested positive for Covid-19, bringing the country's cumulative cases to 3,895,430.

The overall death toll reached 87,988 after 293 patients died in the last 24 hours, according to health authorities.

Currently, 24,891 patients are hospitalised, 3,633 of them in intensive care, down by 220 and 4 respectively.

The virus continued to circulate, but it was not rising exponentially as some experts predicted, said Castex.

"The fastest and most targeted vaccine rollout will allow us to get out of the tunnel," he added.

To that end, France plans to inoculate 10 million citizens by mid-April, 20 million by mid-May and a total of 30 million, or two-thirds of the adults, by summer.

So far, 3,235,684 people have received at least the first jab, and 1,781,750 of them have got both doses, according to the prime minister.

He added that vaccine deliveries "will increase in the coming weeks" to 22 million doses over the March-April period, compared with 7 million shots received during the first two months of the year.

An Elabe poll released on Wednesday found that 75 per cent of French people believed that the government's vaccination rollout is very slow.

The figure is 7 percentage points higher than the pollster's January survey.

Meanwhile, the share of respondents who want to be inoculated increased by two points to 50 per cent, according to the poll.

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